Every Thursday evening, the Liberators’ comedy improv class ended at 9:30. Like the clockwork inside a $20 Rolex, I left the class and the Falcon Building. Feeling funny, I walked the half-block to the corner of Albina and Killingsworth to catch the 72 bus eastbound towards home.
There was always someone at the busstop whom I would have crossed the street to avoid, but the tentacles barely visible in the shadows over on the other side – though they beckoned in a friendly way – kept me on this one.
I always said “Hello” to the driver, who was almost always the same woman. I flashed a smile along with the transfer obtained two and a half hours prior. She coldly read every word on the uncrumpled scrap of newsprint as if it were a ransom note, and assessed me as if I had typed it and were delivering it for her approval.
“Go ahead,” she would say.
One Thursday evening, the bus arrived ten minutes late. Otherwise, everything was as usual. I said “Hello,” flashed the transfer and the smile, and she said “That’s expired.”
I wanted to say, “I thought you were my friend.” Instead, I pointed out that she was late, and that if she had been on time the transfer would have been —
“… almost good. Almost good is still expired,” she said. “This line runs every 15 minutes, so you would have been expired even if you caught the last bus.”
I’m expired? I’m expired? I pulled out my wallet, containing a lone $5 bill.
I said to the dozen passengers, “Does anyone have change for a five?”
Blank dogfaces dared me to further disturb their peace.
I thought I heard the driver say, “I’ll take you by a store and you can get change.”
She said it again. I would have been more surprised if she’d given me a pair of free Blazers tickets, or a fresh caught salmon, but not much.
I stood just behind the yellow line while she drove from stop to stop to stop. Just as I was thinking I’d slip through the barrage of stimuli and demands she was fielding – checking fares, bantering, driving – she stopped, gestured at a convenience store kitty corner across Alberta Street and said, “I’ll wait for you.”
We were at 10th Avenue, more than a mile from where I’d boarded. I ran into the store, waited for two customers to get what they needed to make it through the night, broke the five on a box of spearmint TicTacs and ran back to the idling bus. I paid up and thanked the coolest bus driver I ever met.
© Nick O’Connor: If you had been commuting an hour each way every weekday between Northeast Portland and the Sunset Transit Center at the border of Portland and Beaverton for two years and occasionally woke up, dislodged an earbud, or spoke to a fellow rider, you would have a few stories to tell, too. Nick blogs at Sardines Are Only Packed Once.